By Sabrina Samone
In every generation a story must be told, it is often up the storytellers to speak for the countless voices of our world. In our generation those story tellers are often film makers: the writers, producers, directors, and actors that bring a story to life. This post Academy Award interview is of a man that does just that, bringing voices to the countless unseen, unheard, trans men from around the globe. He is a voice for trans men of color, an often more unheard voice in our community.
Tony Zosherafatain is a man like many with a duality of spirit¹, but he is also Greek/Iranian. A duality of race that also gives him a unique perspective on what it means to be a trans man of color. Even in his upcoming documentary series, Tony will be featuring trans men from ten various countries and cultures. Cultures that are usually overshadowed by American and Western European countries. As in his life from working with those with disabilities, and a nurse practitioner student, he is the champion of the unheard voices of our society.
“I am the T: an FTM documentary“, chronicles the lives and transitions of trans men in ten different countries. Production began in November 2014 in Norway, and will continue in the following countries: Malaysia, Canada, Thailand, Lesotho, Germany, the Phillipines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia. Individual country segments will be released independently. The full-feature release date is scheduled for 2018.
The first segment was filmed in November 2014 in Norway, and features the story of Isak, a 28 year old trans man who had recently began transitioning. Isak’s story (screened at this workshop) portrays both the challenges he faces as an FTM, and the triumphs over adversity that characterize finding one’s gender and broader self. ” I am the T” plans to grow into a documentary series that chronicles the stories of hundreds of trans* identified people around the world. The mission of “I am the T” is to shift the tide of trans representation in the media to one that is more subjective and culturally-inclusive.
TMP: You’ve previously mentioned that your reasons, four years ago, to do the documentary film “I am the T” was that you’ve noticed the lacking of trans men in media. Why do you feel personally that was the case compared to trans women?
Tony Zosherafatain: At the time that I created the idea for the documentary, trans representation was severely lacking; trans stories were not a media priority. As a trans man who was not yet out, I couldn’t find images of trans masculine people to help me realize who I was. Since 2010, we’ve had the emergence of trans women of color such as Laverne Cox and Janet mock in the media, which has helped the trans community move forward. I think representations of trans men in the media have lagged behind, for a variety of reasons. One reason is because many trans men may want to live as stealth. I think another reason is due to male privilege. For many of us, it may be easier to be accepted into society because we are transitioning into the gender that controls society. I think the media also finds it hard to grasp trans male stories because traditionally, being trans has been associated with MTFs, and with good reason given that it was trans women who spurred the LGBT movement at stonewall.
TMP: In your opinion, how has that changed, and has it changed fast enough?
Tony Z.: I think that media representation of trans men has changed, but at a slow pace. For example, the only trans male on TV used to be Max from the L word, which was a horrible representation of the FTM experience. Since then, we’ve had a trans male character played on Transparent, and better films featuring trans men. However, trans male representations are not fully inclusive. In the MTF community, there are trans woman of color who are spearheading the movement, but for FTMs, we are only mostly seeing white trans men being represented. The FTM community needs to share the power of representation with trans men who are of color, disabled, feminine, queer, and those who can’t/don’t want to medically transition. In this way, I think the media will realize that there is much more to our identities; that we are as complex as any other human population.
TMP: Who is your partner in the project and how important is it that we recruit more trans men of color in film?
T.Z.: From the beginning, it was important that I recruited trans people for this documentary. As a trans man of color myself (half-Iranian)³, I wanted to recruit as many other under-represented trans men as possible given that a lot of films about our community are directed by cisgender people. Right now, I have a videographer and editor named Aiden, who is half-Mexican and half-black. I also have an editor and production assistant who is a first-generation American trans man. Another team member, our Graphic Designer, is a trans man who hails from Malaysia. We also have a cisgender production advisor who helps us gain perspective so that we can portray FTM stories in a way that changes the way cisgender people view trans masculine stories. I think it’s very important to see more trans men of color in our community. Trans men of color aren’t being prioritized for representation projects, which is a disservice. I think increasing the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of trans male representation will inevitably lead our community forward. It’s powerful to see a trans man from an oppressed minority thriving. That sends a message of hope to trans youth of color.
TMP: Tell our TMP readers if you will, what was your motivation behind creating this documentary? Why specifically did you choose to show a variation of cultures in this film?
T.Z.: The motivation behind creating this documentary is rooted in my experience as a first-generation American trans man. Neither of my parents were born in the U.S.-my dad is from Iran and my mom is from Greece. When I began transitioning, it was even more difficult to find trans men from my specific cultural heritage. If we can show a variation of trans men from different cultures, it will send a powerful message: that the trans experience is universal. I think that creating a diversity of representations in the FTM community can only serve to reassure trans men from these backgrounds that they exist and that they are worthy of visibility.
TMP: How many nations are represented in the complete series?
T.Z.: There will be a total of ten countries represented. Because of time constraints, we will most likely create a two part documentary series. Each part will include five countries so that we can give each participant’s story adequate coverage.
TMP: Through this journey, what lessons have you learned about trans-society and the various cultures involved?
T.Z.: I’ve learned more than I ever would have imagined. The first is that many cultures that we deem “discriminatory” against trans people are actually more complex. For example, I dug into my own background, found that the Iranian government is accepting of trans people and covers trans surgeries. On the other hand, someone who lives in a country that is seen as “very liberal” may not actually create an easy transition process for an individual person. For example, Isak (the participant we filmed in Norway)² hasn’t had the simplest time accessing hormones or finding social support. I’ve also realized that there are many shared experiences between trans men in different cultures, many of them relating to bodily experiences, such as binding, taking testosterone, and struggling with internalized dysphoria.
TMP: I see you are an avid hockey player. Do you still play?
T.Z.: I had almost forgotten about hockey because of retirement, haha. I’ve been playing since I was eight, and I think having access to this sport helped me figure out my gender in some ways. It helped me escape the constraints of being assigned to the wrong gender by allowing me to partake in a sport that is seen as traditionally “masculine”. I played a year in college at Wesleyan University until I sustained a shoulder injury that ended my career. Occasionally, I still play in adult pick-up leagues. TMP: Working with those with disabilities is a humbling experience, and during the time you lived in Massachusetts, you tutored those with disabilities. How has that shaped your view of your dysphoria?
T.Z.: This is another great question. I think that disability rights and trans rights are intersectional.
People who are disabled fight to have their bodies respected and are often the targets of physical violence, discrimination, and often have to prove that they are indeed human. That resonates with many trans stories, and one could even say that dysphoria is a debilitating emotional and physical disability. I think that just like the disability rights movement has changed the way we see the concept of ableism, the experience of dysphoria can be changed if we are given the unequivocal acceptance to become ourselves.
TMP: Do you still feel that trans men are an outside voice and how can we as a society change that?
T.Z.: I definitely think trans men are an outside voice. I think we do have to be aware of male privilege and not try to take up too much representational space; however, if we portray our stories in a way that challenges societal norms about masculinity, gender, and beauty, then I think we can really challenge the reasons behind transphobia. I think we as a society can improve that by changing the ways we see gender by accepting that one’s sex isn’t pre-determined by genitalia. I think we also need to shift away from the idea that gender determines personality, sexuality, social roles, and one’s life destiny.
TMP: I like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Tony Zosherafatain and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?
T.Z.: That I have been through many struggles in my life, as a trans man, as a first-generation America, as a man of color, but, honestly I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m very proud of my backgrounds. My life experiences have made me mentally resilient and I can relate to people on a more human level. Though I’ve been the target of discrimination, I try not to judge humanity. I’m critical of systemic discrimination, but believe that people can change for the better. With “I am the T”, I want to show people life through a trans man’s eyes so that even conservative viewers no longer doubt that we are just as human as anyone else.
It has been a pleasure getting to know this man of many talents, a pioneer in film for trans voices, a nurse, and a champion for the disabled. It is our pleasure to announce that this interview is part one of a series TMP will cover about the director, and the film “I Am The T’. Tony has also teamed up with TMP as a guest blogger, where he will be chronicling his experiences filming in Norway.
- In Reference to the duality of being trans. Two spirited people. Consider throughout history as special connections to the divine, and a direct representation of God’s form.
- The film I Am the T, covers background from several countries; Malaysia, Norway and Canada to name a few.
- Iran actually performs far more SRS surgeries than most countries. It’s a doubled edge sword. While being trans has less stigma than being gay or lesbian, the tragic side is the forced sex reassignment of gay men and lesbian women, so that they will be heterosexual in the eyes of the community and Allah.
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